Celeste Coetsee is one of the ladies who’s closely involved in running Her Voice. Last year she and her husband, Markus, adopted a baby boy. These are her thoughts…
Talking about race, African languages, products for different skin types and how to style smooth vs. curly hair has become as natural to me as if I were talking about the weather or the latest Masterchef episode. As we prepare for a possible transracial family we have come to discover so many new things, meet very interesting people and learn to embrace all of the emotions and questions that go with it. The mister and I made a conscious decision to engage in this current, and very relevant, conversation to help us as we wait for our little boy.
These types of dialogue would obviously not be possible without a community of people who have walked )and currently are walking) the walk. A few weeks ago Elke, Markus and I had the privilege of listening to the stories and experiences of other families that have gone before us. We met in small hall, chairs in a circle – from the outside it looked like an ordinary meeting, but the people and stories on the inside were anything but ordinary.
This meeting was part of the Speak Out conversations that Mmusi Maimane is having with different communities within our country. A combination of what he and his beautiful wife, Natalie, shared, along with the thoughts and questions of the other families, reminded me of a blog post I wrote last year about the concept “colourblindness”. Although I know that I do not have all the answers, here follow a few of my thoughts about it…
No, we are not colourblind.
This statement comes loaded. Loaded with ideas and definitions. Loaded with social opinion and constructs. Loaded with emotions…oh, so many emotions.
As shared in the announcement of our adoption, we have gone through the process of screening and were officially approved as adoptive parents on the 9th of October 2015.
To give some context, in our eyes this was a mix between the 12-week scan and arrival of the second trimester all in one.
So now we wait and pray for our little boy – wherever he may be right now, maybe already born or maybe in a beautiful lady’s womb preparing for this big world. So what does one do when in waiting… In our case, we read, we talk, we answer many questions and even attend a conference to prepare for this new unknown chapter of our lives.
It was at this conference, the Arise Adoption Conference, that we were again challenged with the reality of becoming a possibly blended family – one where the freckles on my light skin might reflect the colour of my boy’s sweet cheeks. With challenge I do not imply bad or undesired, but instead something one has to get ready for in order to experience it as growth and opportunity.
We live in South Africa.
We live in Stellenbosch.
We are white.
The combination of these three facts of our lives includes so much “stuff” – some might register guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, anger maybe even some stereotypes and preconceived ideas. But these are the facts, not opinions or ideas, but also not the ‘complete’ us. We are more than this but also cannot, and will not, deny the depth and complexity of these facts within our social and economic context. We have a racial identity… and so will our little boy who will grow up to be a man who must be comfortable and secure in whom he is irrespective of who his parents are.
So, along with our choice of not specifying the race of our boy, comes the flood of questions and opinions we encounter every day:
“Ah cool, we are all the same anyway! I don’t even see colour.”
“But what if he gets bullied one day, because he doesn’t look like his brothers or sisters?”
“So, didn’t you want a white child?”
“Does the race of a person really matter? I mean, we are all the same before God.”
Although it sometimes feels that others want to make our business their business, we must admit that all of these are valid questions and comments and we are aware that we do not have all the answers yet, but we do know this:
We are not colourblind.
What I have come to learn was that when we talk about race we usually do not link it to the biological attribute of skin colour variations or the place of origin. What society usually refers to is a social concept that links behaviour and culture to a specific group of people – creating a form of identity for people who fall in the same Pantone colour.
Markus and I have talked extensively about our choice of not indicating a specific race of preference of our boy. It was never an issue for us and we are thankful for the community we find ourselves in – one in which we have discovered friendship and family across cultures and race. But the reality is we live in a country and town that is still burdened by the complexities of the past, present and future – some are enslaved by it while others might be using it for personal benefit.
In order for us to develop a healthy racial identity within our child we realised we need to keep race on our radar – be aware of it, include it in positive ways and create an environment of discovery so that when our boy becomes a man he will be secure within his familial identity because we respected and allowed him to be fully himself, which includes his birth heritage. Differences exist and rather than deny or minimise it we are choosing to celebrate them for the beauty there is within it.
There is a fourth fact about us that I did not mention.
We are children of God. And that changes everything for us.
God fully knew whom He created – all in His image yet all different. He is not oblivious to the differences between is, but He does not ascribe our worth according to it either. The world tends to associate difference with division; God calls us to be united, despite not being the same. When we are in Christ we all have access to God, to His grace and His forgiveness. And from this place we derive our worth, knowing our identity is made complete as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
We know there will be comments and opinions, maybe even discrimination or favour. But I trust that our God, Creator of all glory and beauty, will help us to embrace this journey with Micah 6:8 as a fundamental pillar in our lives – living it in all situations with all people.
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
So we invite you to venture with us to colourful places.
photos | Lizelle Lötter